As the Premier League moves into 2016, the table has a fairly unfamiliar ring to it.
We have become accustomed, over the last decade or so, to seeing Manchester United and Chelsea battling it out at the top of the table. This season we see Chelsea languishing closer to the relegation spots and Manchester United bottom of the form table with three points from their last six games. The same as Aston Villa and Sunderland.
And yet, with the new TV rights deal coming into place for the start of next season, the bigger clubs like United and Chelsea are richer than they have ever been. They may not get the money until next season, but given these clubs know that they’re highly unlikely to get relegated, they can afford to spend it already – though in Chelsea’s case, even that seems less clear cut this season.
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But there’s a paradox surrounding these clubs. These two are supposedly two of the biggest in English football, and yet here they are well off the pace set by the likes of a stuttering Arsenal and an inconsistent Manchester City: Manchester United find themselves directly below Crystal Palace in the table, whilst Chelsea are three points above the relegation zone.
And an even bigger paradox is why they find themselves where they are.
For Manchester United, it’s not so much the boring football. You can play boring and still win games. The problem seems to be a lack of a cutting edge in the squad, and a real lack of quality options for the manager.
For Chelsea, whether or it was the fault of petulant players, or the stubborn behaviour of the erstwhile manager, the playing squad was surely burnt out after being exerted massively last season. Chelsea played with almost the same team game after game, and yet the only major signing to help out the jaded champions was Pedro.
All of this has left both teams in a position where their squads aren’t right. But more importantly, they are too thin to really drag themselves out of the positions in which they find themselves.
Manchester United seem intent on Felipe Anderson, whilst Chelsea could be on the lookout for an attacker themselves. And both clubs, as rich as they are, have the ability to spend money in January.
And there’s the paradox: after spending hundred of millions of pounds on players, neither club has the ability to cope with the squad they have. And so they have to go out and spend more millions right in the middle of the season.
Ironically, you could argue that Chelsea’s woes look less pronounced than United’s. If the players simply stopped playing for Mourinho, then maybe they’ll come back out to play now. They might need a few more quality players before the start of next season, but you’d expect that the ones who are already there will not be as bad over the coming months as they have been since August.
Their problem will be picking themselves up from the malaise. It’s not so easy to go from not playing at 100% to starting to give your all and start winning.
United, however, is a case I simply can’t explain. How can a club sign so many players for so much money and yet not have an attacking option on their bench come the end of a game they find themselves losing?
Against Bournemouth, Phil Jones was the final throw of the dice for Van Gaal. Fast forward a few weeks and again Jones was thrown on late against Chelsea, as United searched for a winner.
The crux of the paradox is how such big clubs can be so rich, spend so much money, and yet find themselves so far down the table, lose so many games, and not even have a decent attacking option to come off the bench and change things.
It’s not just the Premier League table that has an unfamiliar ring to it, it’s these clubs themselves and how they do business. Surely they can’t be this poor for much longer?